How do we uncover our guilt?

by Robert Perry

Question: Does the Course recommend that we uncover our inner, private, subconscious guilt passively or actively? By passively, I mean that when we forgive guilt we have projected onto others, the corresponding inner subconscious guilt is healed by the Holy Spirit without our participation. It seems to me, though, that the Course wants us to be more active and direct—to actively uncover our private subconscious guilt. Would you agree, and if so, by what methods does the Course recommend that we uncover it?

Answer: This is an excellent question. Guilt—its uncovering and undoing—is such a central topic in the Course. It's one of the things that distinguishes the Course from other spiritual paths. I completely agree with your view that the Course encourages us to actively uncover our guilt. In sketching my reasons why, I'll start at the general level and go to the specific, concluding with how we can actively expose our guilt.

Speaking very generally, the Course does place tremendous emphasis on uncovering our guilt. In Chapter 13 of the Text, it speaks of this as absolutely pivotal:

You must look upon your illusions and not keep them hidden….For beneath them, and concealed as long as they are hidden, is the loving mind that thought it made them in anger. And the pain in this mind [the pain of guilt] is so apparent, when it is uncovered, that its need of healing cannot be denied. Not all the tricks and games you offer it can heal it, for here is the real crucifixion of God's Son. (T-13.III.6:1,4-6)

This says that we need to look on our illusions, because by doing so, we will see beneath them to "the loving mind that thought it made them in anger," and that is wracked with guilt accordingly. Why is uncovering this loving, guilt-ridden mind so important? Because when we see its profound pain—the pain of guilt—we will move Heaven and earth to heal that pain.

In addition, the Course clearly expects that by working with it, we will increasingly uncover our guilt. After we have been reading the Text for twenty-seven chapters, Jesus says this:

Once you were unaware of what the cause of everything the world appeared to thrust upon you, uninvited and unasked, must really be. Of one thing you were sure: Of all the many causes you perceived as bringing pain and suffering to you, your guilt was not among them. (T-27.VII.7:3-4)

When he speaks of "once," a time when we were totally unaware of the real cause of our pain, when we thought our guilt wasn't even on the list of the causes of our suffering, I think he clearly means "before the Course." This means he expects that by working with the Course, we will slowly become aware of our guilt, and it will slowly work its way up our list of what we think causes our suffering, until it finally arrives at the top, and the rest of the list disappears.

This fits with what he says elsewhere. In Chapter 11 of the Text, Jesus says, "The beginning phases of this reversal are often quite painful, for as blame is withdrawn from without, there is a strong tendency to harbor it within" (T-11.IV.4:5). When we stop blaming our brothers, what we are really doing is retracting the projection of guilt that we have been laying on them. Now we are forced to see it where it really is: within. In this view, practicing forgiveness towards others will probably, at least initially, lead to a greater sense of our own guilt. I know that many of us have found just this.

Speaking a bit more specifically, the Course places a great deal of emphasis on searching our minds for ego-based thoughts. We see this in the Text, where Jesus says,

The Holy Spirit asks of you but this; bring to Him every secret you have locked away from Him….Bring, therefore, all your dark and secret thoughts to Him, and look upon them with Him. (T-14.VII.6:1, 8)

The Workbook then actually guides us in this search mission. It asks us to search our minds for all sorts of ego-based thoughts, including (as a small sample): thoughts of attack and being attacked (Lesson 23), unloving thoughts (Lesson 39), people we have not completely forgiven (Lesson 46), and the dark and secret places in our minds (Lesson 99).

None of these, however, look like they are specifically about uncovering our guilt. There is, however, a fascinating passage in the Psychotherapy supplement that speaks of this (in Chapter 2, Section VI). It speaks of "the hanging-on to guilt, its hugging-close and sheltering, its loving protection and alert defense" (1:3) and vividly describes this as a "dirge" the patient sings to himself, a mournful funeral hymn whose never-ending refrain is "God may not enter here" (1:4). The passage then goes on to say that in therapy there occur "fleeting awarenesses" (2:2) in which the patient hears "this song of death only an instant" (2:1). He catches the briefest glimpse of the fact that he is constantly singing to himself, "God may not enter here, because I am just too guilty." The passage then says that these brief instants "represent the many opportunities given us literally 'to change our tune'" (2:2). These are our chance to stop singing to ourselves that dirge of guilt.

But we still don't know how the patient stumbles across these instants. How does he manage to spark these fleeting glimpses of his guilt?

The answer is hinted at throughout the Course. A key hint is in Lesson 39. It has us search our minds for unloving thoughts, and with each one say, "My unloving thoughts about _____ are keeping me in hell" (W-pI.39.8:3). Earlier it explained, quite simply, that "guilt is hell" (2:1). Thus, our unloving thoughts are keeping us in the hell of guilt. Notice that what we search our minds for are the unloving thoughts, rather than the guilt. The reason for this will become clear soon.

Remember that earlier quote about the need to "look upon your illusions," because if you do, you will see beneath them to the loving mind that is wracked with guilt over making them? Put simply, that passage said that looking upon our illusions leads us to see our guilt. But what illusions are we specifically looking upon in that section? The answer is completely unambiguous. The section's first line says, "It is so crucial that you look upon your hatred and realize its full extent" (T-13.III.1:1). Other lines in that section speak of the same thing in different words: looking on "your savage wish to kill God's Son" (2:4) and looking on "the ego's darkest cornerstone" (1:9)—the same thing as our hatred and wish to kill.

All of this leads me to a simple and logical conclusion: the way to get in touch with our guilt is to look honestly upon our attack thoughts: our anger, our hatred, our unloving thoughts. If we look on them without disguising or justifying them, we will automatically get in touch with our guilt. How could we not? They, after all, are what causes our guilt. In this view, all of those Workbook lessons that ask us to search our minds for attack thoughts are also lessons in how to uncover our guilt.

Thus, if you want to get in touch with your guilt, look at one of your attack thoughts about another person, a thought of blame, hatred, or just simple disdain or disregard. Look at it in full strength, without trying to take the edge off of it. Put words to it. Realize that it contains the "intent to hurt" (W-pI.170.1:1). Realize that "its sole intent is murder" (T-23.III.1:5). Don't make excuses for it. Take away all the justifications you have padded it with. See it as an expression of your own prior wish to attack and murder, a wish that existed before any so-called provocation. Then imagine actually vocalizing this thought to the person that it is about, and see it work its intent to hurt on that person. See that person wither inside as your attack thought does exactly what it was meant to do. If you really do all this, you won't need to go looking for your guilt. It will have found you.

Of course, this is just the first step. As the Text reminds us, "There is an advantage in bringing nightmares into awareness, but only to teach that they are not real" (T-9.V.3:1).

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